Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why Do They Charge So Much?

by John Pershing

“So, why should I buy a membership to go to a convention so those clowns running it can make money off me, shouldn’t fan run conventions be free?”

I heard this question very late one night, from two young fans at a really big convention last year. They had been at the dance, were in costume, and were very up-front about having crashed the con (without paying the registration fee), because they were broke, and besides, “It isn’t like the convention pays for the hotel rooms, the people have to do that, right?, so why should we register so they can make money from us? How much money does a convention like this make, anyway?”

First of all: Nobody involved in a fan run convention is making any money off of the event. There are commercial conventions that are run by professionals which are money making enterprises, but that isn’t a fan run convention. OSFest in Omaha, as well as nearby conventions like Constellation (Lincoln), DemiCon (Des Moines), ConQuesT (Kansas City), ICON (Cedar Rapids), to name just a few, are fan events which are run by volunteers.

Figuring that these fans were clueless about what is involved in a convention, I decided to try and fix the misperception they had:

I asked, “How much money do they make? Do you mean profit they take home?” They were nodding to me.

“No, no. Listen, I know several of the folks who run this convention, and I can tell you, for a fact, nobody is making anything off of this. You mentioned the hotel rooms - sure - people rent their own sleeping rooms. But right down this hall,” I said, pointing to my left, “we’ve got, what, four big meeting rooms? And past these are another eight big rooms on this floor, and another six or eight downstairs?” I gestured to the right, “and here is the big room with a dance, a DJ playing music, and a room where the dealers are set up. Down that hall are a bunch more function rooms, and the consuite.

“Take a look at the consuite, with all those 5-gallon soda cans stacked up for us to drink. The con has to pay for all this function space, all the pop, all the food in the consuite. And let me tell you, the function space alone in this hotel will cost tens of thousands of dollars for this weekend. Add the hotel rooms and airfare for the guests of honor that the convention has brought in, and there are a dozen or more guests here. Just printing up the badges and program books for all the people will cost several thousand dollars. And there are all sorts of other expenses through the year that are needed, to put on an event like this. The money we pay to register for the convention is all used to put on the convention.

“And all these folks running around with staff shirts on? None of them is making a dime. Every single one is a volunteer, and lots of them have been working every week for the past year to make sure this event happens, and everyone has a good time. They are all doing it because they love to go to these conventions too, and enjoy themselves. And somebody has to do the work to make it happen.

I’ve summed up the conversation I had with those two fans - it wasn’t quite the monolog you see above. They asked some good questions, too, and we got into some details on the expenses involved in a convention. But the basic point is simply that throwing a convention is more complex - and expensive - than simply telling several hundred fans to meet at a hotel.

I’ve talked to plenty of folks who would like to go to OSFest, or similar conventions, but think that the cost is prohibitive. There are things you can do to save money. If you want a hotel room (or are going to another city and NEED one), go with some friends to split the cost. Most hotels will limit you to four guests in a room, but sometimes they will make an exception. It can get cramped, but the cost goes way down. (And you’re planning on partying most of the time instead of sitting in your room anyway!) Eat cheap. It is tough to get a balanced diet if you are eating only the free food at the consuite. But if you do the consuite food, with just a couple trips to a fast food place, your food budget can stay very small. Of course, if you plan ahead and make sandwiches or bring your own snacks, that works too. You get the idea.

As to the registration cost, register early - for example OSFest is $30 now, but $40 at the door, to encourage people to register early, and other conventions offer similar savings. But don’t forget that you’re getting quite a bit for your money: All the events at the convention, all the food and drink at the consuite, and the guests who come to spend the time with the fans. Dollar for dollar, it’s tough to beat the price of a convention registration for a great weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Great points John! It's nice to know what happens behind the curtains.